17 Feb 2013

Mini Reviews 17/02/2013

We may not have time to review every book on our pull-lists but we do aim to provide a snapshot of what's been released over the past week, encompassing the good, the bad, and those that lie somewhere in between.

Also this week, Matt C's New Mutants Project continues.

UNCANNY X-MEN #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Jamie Mendoza & Al Vey
Marvel $3.99

James R: Another month, another new X-book! Marvel's revamp of their mutant titles continues apace, and once again it's Brian Michael Bendis on script duties. I was struck by a sense of deja-vu reading this - as with All-New X-Men I was prepared to dislike this title, and just like before, I was intrigued by the final page, while not being wholly convinced. In reality, this is an extension of All-New X-Men, but here the focus is entirely on the Cyclops faction of the X-schism. Bendis spends the issue setting up an excellent twist as it seems that Scott Summers has a traitor in his group. It certainly looked impressive with the dependable Chris Bachalo producing some excellent pages, and by the final panel I was keen to follow this plot. I do keep reflecting back to the X-books pre-Bendis, and I still think Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron and Rick Remender had worked out a perfect blend for the X-Men titles, and I can't help but feel they've spoiled me a bit. If I'd got back on board with All-New X-Men #1, and then picked this up, I'd probably be more enthused, but after the last two years I'm finding Bendis' books enjoyable without being spectacular. I'm sceptical as to how long this title can survive though - I know we discuss cost a lot on this blog, but having to pay out for another $3.99 title to keep up with Bendis' tale is a little excessive. Think how good it would be if his two titles were folded into one book! I am an easily suggestible Marvel zombie though, and once again it's another addition to my pull-list. Marvel NOW! may have been far more low-key than DC’s New 52, but at the moment it's certainly looking more successful. 7/10

Stewart R: Sometimes, just sometimes, Bendis really does get it right. While I cannot disagree more with the concept of the very first X-Men team being time displaced to the present (as seen in his All-New X-Men series), I'm fully onboard with what Marvel's head writer has prepared for us in the new iteration of Uncanny X-Men. With the mutant population now on the rise and Cyclops still something of a pariah following the recent Phoenix event and the death of Charles Xavier at his power-corrupted hands, it's a fine time to craft a new mutant movement with a controversial leader and the brilliant political/ media magnifying glass to view it all from. The dealings with S.H.I.E.L.D. allow for the required amount of exposition to be delivered to familiar and non-familiar readers alike, as the mysterious stranger proceeds to explain his motives to Director Hill whilst recounting one of Cyclops recent rescue missions for a newly discovered mutant. This allows Bachalo to display his deft touch when it comes to subtler conversation pieces - which in turn seems to keep Bendis’ from entering his ‘talking heads phase’ at any point - and also bust out some great visuals when the Sentinels turn up. There is a twist in the tail and it should certainly serve as a tense plot device as this series rolls on. Providing that the quality in all respects remains this high then I may consider forgiving the constant rebooting and relaunching of comics found with this title emblazoned upon them! 9/10

BATMAN #17
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion & FCO Plascencia
DC $3.99

Stewart R: As is often the case with such important, gripping arcs, the journey can tend to be more fulfilling than the destination. In this final chapter of ‘Death of the Family’, Snyder manages to deliver an enthralling and tense piece as the Joker's plan - teased through the past couple of chapters and the associated tie-in titles - is finally revealed and carries with it a thrilling sense of peril for all involved. I have to tip my hat to Snyder for staying the course on the slight shift we see within this famed antagonist, tweaking and refocusing the psychology of the madman and offering a redefinition of the hero/villain relationship that befits DC's initial manifesto for the New 52. The way in which Joker and Batman trade conversation as if their relationship echoed that of entwined lovers has been something of a masterstroke, adding an extra level of creepiness that can only be expected within the dark boundaries of Gotham City. I will admit that I find Snyder's last twist to be wobbling just a tiny amount upon that old tightrope of 'too far', the 'devil you know' perspective feeling quite out of synch with the Caped Crusader's famously tight philosophy, especially considering the ‘acceptable’ costs involved. It does however cast a new light upon the grinning menace and the motivations behind his cruel games and is further proof of just how adept a writer we have in charge presently! Capullo goes hand in hand with that sense of quality; his facial expression work on Bruce and the Joker capturing every subtle change as the upper hand moves from one to the other. As I said before, not quite as enjoyable as the journey that got us here, but certainly a polished finale. 8/10

Matt C: ‘Death of the Family’ started off so well, but it’s gradually lost its grip on me as it’s gone along. The problem could be that Batman is the only Bat-book I’m picking up and it’s increasingly felt like I’m only getting a fraction of the story, like I’m just witnessing a succession of ‘scenes’ with bits missing in between. And that makes me kind of fed up with this crossover cycle the Bat-books have fallen into since relatively early on. Yeah, I understand it’s going to happen – that’s the nature of the beast – but when it’s one crossover after another I start to disengage. And I was certainly disengaged here. There are wider problems I have with the whole New 52 and how the reboot has started to look like it’s struggling to stay afloat, but I don’t really have the time or inclination (at this point) to go into it here. Let’s just say I’m down to two DC Universe titles and at this moment in time cutting them from my pull-list wouldn’t be such a tough decision. Snyder’s script does try to elucidate on why the Dark Knight doesn’t simply kill the Joker, but the explanations struggle to remain plausible in the face of such intensely psychopathic behaviour. Then there's the residual feeling that this was just really another Joker tale rather than something with any lasting impact, which seemed to be the way it was originally positioning itself as. The star of the show for me was - without question - Capullo (with the essential assistance of Glapion and Plascencia) who attacks the page with a ferocity that amplifies the horror tropes Synder employs to tell the story. It’s a visual tour de force but I’m not sure if it’ll be enough in the long run to keep me around unless some self-contained tales start to take over again. 6/10

James R: It's been quite a week for Batman. The Guardian newspaper here in the UK claimed that this arc was good enough to get on the Booker Prize shortlist, and there's certainly been a buzz about Snyder's concluding chapter to his Joker tale - would he sacrifice one of the Bat-family? Leaving all spoilers aside, Snyder and co. give us a magical comic. I mean 'magical' in the stage term; this turns out to be a magnificent sleight-of-hand in the first instance, and leaves you thinking 'How did he do that...?!' by the haunting final page. When you reflect on this issue after reading it, you may realise that Snyder has played us all as effectively as the Joker has played Batman, and that's all part of the fun. I only have one reservation about the book - Bruce's reason for not killing the Joker felt a little hollow to me, but as always, I'm willing to hold up my hands and say that this is the rabid fanboy in me demanding perfection! I don't think it's quite up there with Frank Millar's ‘80s classics, but it certainly has the ambition and depth of Dark Knight Returns and Year One and this title is certainly the best Bat-book since the sublime Gotham Central. Seventeen issues in and this creative team have yet to put a foot wrong, and I now can't wait to see their take on the Riddler after his excellent cameo in this arc. Snyder may not get to see Batman on the Booker Prize list, but he is a class of his own right now in superhero comics - long may he reign. 9/10

STUFF OF LEGEND: THE TOY COLLECTOR #3
Writer: Mike Raicht & Brian Smith
Art: Charles Paul Wison III, Jon Conkling & Michael DeVito
Th3rd World Studios $3.99

Matt C: For me, this is the premier ‘all-ages’ title on the stands at the moment as it taps into something so primal, so universal, that anyone can engage with it. There’s an inherent understanding of how impactful fairy tales are during our formative years, so that long after you’ve supposedly left children’s stories behind something can come out of nowhere to essentially flick a switch and elicit a specific emotional response. And Stuff Of Legend elicits those emotional responses in spades. There’s a real sense that things are starting to come to a head, that the point of no return has long since been passed and the final confrontation with the Boogeyman is edging ever closer. As always, the characters have real depth and dimension to them and are beautifully brought to life by Wilson III and co (I love how the occasional flashes of red serve to magnify certain moments). I always get the feeling that not enough people have cottoned onto the brilliance of this series yet, but it’s definitely built to last and will be around long enough for everyone to eventually realise what they missed out on the first time around. 9/10

WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #25
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Ramon Perez & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

James R: At the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, things are very much back to their best. I wasn't hugely convinced by the Circus arc - it was okay, but after the explosive first year, and the introduction of the new students it felt a bit of a misstep. However, issue #25 marks a great return to form as Jason Aaron focuses back on what makes this book work. I love the notion of Wolverine as the Head/Principle of the school - something I initially thought was a gimmick has turned out to be a brilliant evolution of the character; Logan's desire to be a better man conflicting with his terrible past and lethal instincts makes for a great character study. Aaron also spoils us with the students of the school, in this issue dragged to the Savage Land by Wolverine to test their mettle. Comics are so often a static medium, with characters that remain unchanged by any number of traumatic events, so it's a treat to see Jason Aaron developing Genesis, Idie and Quentin Quire into strong characters in their own right. Speaking of Quire, I couldn't help but think of Grant Morrison this week, reading both this and Batman - as maligned as Morrison is by some, how many other writers have injected new characters who have now become beloved core components of big titles (Damien Wayne and Quentin Quire)? If Jason Aaron stays on this book, this has the very real potential to be thought of in the same reverential way that the Chris Claremont run is. Here's hoping class won't be dismissed for a good while yet. 8/10

BATMAN AND ROBIN #17
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray & John Kalisz
DC $2.99

Stewart R: Okay, so I may sing this comic book’s praises on quite the regular basis, but there’s just something about the way that Tomasi manages to take an existing comic continuity guided by another - Scott Snyder on Batman, Geoff Johns on Green Lantern - and look at the same picture from a different perspective or viewpoint. This latest chapter feels like a true coda to the ‘Death of the Family’ event - though DC have strangely failed to advertise it as such - as it addresses the immediate psychological impact of the Joker’s foul machinations upon three of the regular cast, as well as looking into their general, recurring fears quite closely. Tackling the subject of a character’s dream state is nothing new, yet the combination of Tomasi’s symbolism and slightly stuttering narrative with Gleason’s warped and evocative imagery works tremendously well to allow us to gain an insight to the world without rules that these subconscious musings represent. There’s little doubting that ‘Death of the Family’ has been a true success as an event and even as a multi-title spanning idea, but I’m not sure that any of the Bat-books have ever managed to encompass that feeling of ‘family’ as Tomasi has with Batman And Robin. 9/10

AMERICA’S GOT POWERS #5
Writer: Jonathan Ross
Art: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, Jason Paz & Paul Mounts
Image $2.99

Stewart R: The return to regular scheduling has helped America’s Got Powers a heck of a lot as it has allowed Ross’ escalating script to bubble along and maintain most of its impetus. While the plot is starting to fall into some clich├ęd potholes - torture the one party the protagonist doesn’t care about, then threaten the one he does, and do it to a countdown as well! - I can’t claim that it doesn’t remain exciting as a result. The great mystery of just how this will all end is still spurring everything on as there’s thankfully no clear indication of how Ross will ultimately choose to finish his second foray into comic book miniseries. Unlike Turf, where characterisation seemed to leap from every page, I feel that the cast in this series are unfortunately a rather bland bunch, regardless of their powers or role, and it comes across that the premise is more important than any of the individuals playing their part. Certainly protagonist Tommy feels little more than a plot device for the majority of the time, although he has been provided with a family and friends to occasionally fret over. A mixed bag then from the writing side, but from the visual side it’s a different story as Hitch is getting better from issue to issue, the sequence with the giant teenagers here providing some breathtaking panels. America’s Got Powers therefore sits in that promising yet flawed category at present time and I think only a truly superb finale is going to help it get beyond that. 6/10

NEW MUTANTS #16
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Sal Buscema, Tom Mandrake, Kim DeMulder & Ken Feduniewicz
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: The trouble with this series so far is that every time it seems to be progressing and forming its own identity it then lapses back into hackneyed X-Men lite territory. This issue is another example of that happening; where last time things seemed to be moving in the right direction, now - even with the introduction of Emma Frost's Hellions - we get stuck into by-the-numbers superpowered brawling. There are still some decent character moments but not enough to lift this above mediocre. One annoying thing: new colourist Feduniewicz insists on exaggerating Dani's Native American heritage to the extent where she's almost bright red in a number of panels. A bit off-putting to say the least. 5/10

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